Hughes: Cantona was made for United
This week's episode of UTD Podcast features one of the club’s most prolific goalscorers, Mark Hughes.
The Welshman had two stints at United, lifting 10 trophies for the club after coming through the youth system in Manchester.
Having been partnered by Frank Stapleton in his first spell at United, Hughes left to join Barcelona on 1986. After a season with the Catalan club and a spell on loan at Bayern Munich, he returned to United, where Alex Ferguson was in his second year as manager.
After winning the 1990 FA Cup and 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup, but missing out on the 1992 Division One title by four points, Ferguson signed Eric Cantona and Dion Dublin from Leeds United and Cambridge United respectively to try and finally provide league glory for the Reds after a 26-year wait.
Hughes told UTD Podcast hosts David May, Helen Evans and Sam Homewood that Cantona's arrival helped him improve as a player greatly.
“He [Ferguson] added a little stardust with Eric. Until you actually worked with him, you didn't realise what a good player he was,” Hughes began.
“You'd admire him from afar when he was at Leeds and think, 'oh, he's got something'. But until you saw him week-in-week-out and on a day-to-day basis, you didn't realise what an exceptional player he was. He was a big, powerful guy and quicker than you thought as well.
“He helped my game. In those days, most teams played 4-4-2. It was two strikers. One would go short, one would go long, you'd run the channels and protect the ball. And I used to play up front with Eric and all of a sudden, he'd start drifting off over to the left-wing and I'd be looking around thinking 'where the hell has he gone now?'
“He used to do it four or five times a game but what he was doing was just finding space. I don't think anybody talked about pockets of space but Eric was doing it in those days. He'd just find little areas of space, he'd receive the ball, knock it off and then get in the box.
“It just worked great and it made me a better player because I understood what he was doing eventually and I'd look for those little moments when he dropped and there were certain things I needed to do when he did that. So it made me a better player as a consequence.”
UTD Podcast: Hughes recalls the Cantona impactVideo
With Cantona leading United, the Reds lifted their first league title in the post-Busby era. Ever since, Cantona's contribution has been the stuff of legend.
“We were a good team,” Hughes explained,
“We'd missed out by a very small margin the year before.
”Eric came in, and it's like we say about Bruno Fernandes. He was made for Manchester United. You just sensed that he'd found his stage and this was where he was meant to be. As soon as he walked through the door you thought 'goodness me'.
You can listen to the rest of the Hughes interview on all your favourite podcast platforms from Monday.